The Meaning of Dining

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Abstract

The objective of this research was to explore the social organization of food provision in publicly funded and regulated long-term care facilities. Observations were conducted, along with 90 interviews with residents, families, and health providers in two Southern Ontario sites using rapid site-switching ethnography within a feminist political economy framework as part of an international, interdisciplinary study investigating healthy ageing. The results showed that food is purchased within a daily $7.80 per resident allotment, limiting high quality choices, which is further problematized by privatization of food services. Funding restrictions also result in low staffing levels, creating tensions in aligning with other Ministry-mandated tasks such as bathing and documenting; competing demands often lead to rushed meals. Regulations, primarily set in response to scandals and to ensure appropriate measured nutrition, reinforce the problem. Furthermore, regulations regarding set mealtimes result in a lack of resident agency, which is compounded by fixed menu options and seating arrangements in one common dining room. Rather than being viewed as an important part of resident socialization, food is reduced to a medicalized task, organized within a climate of cost containment. Findings warrant Ministry financial support for additional staff and for food provision. Policy changes are also required to give primacy to this population’s quality of life.